Patricia Campatelli often worked only 15 hours a week at her $122,500-a-year job as Suffolk County register of probate, and she spent much of that time taking “numerous smoking breaks, scratching lottery tickets, looking at East Boston real estate on the Internet, and filling out puzzles,” according to employees quoted in a confidential report obtained by the Globe.
Even before the embattled Campatelli was accused of punching an employee in the face, she had “created a fearful atmosphere” in the office, retaliating against workers who questioned her long breaks and plotting to get rid of employees so she could hire her own people, concluded court-appointed investigator Ronald P. Corbett Jr.
Corbett’s report, which has been forwarded to a committee of the Supreme Judicial Court for possible disciplinary action, takes the showdown between Campatelli and court officials to a new level. Campatelli has insisted that because she is an elected official court administrators have no power over her and only the SJC — or the voters — can discipline her.
Campatelli, on paid administrative leave since Jan. 14 while Corbett investigated allegations of abusive behavior, flatly denied all the charges. But Corbett did not believe her, concluding that Campatelli worked too little, violated the court’s sexual harassment policy, and used her position to punish people she did not like.
“It simply is not credible that so many employees would falsely report so many specific and similar details,” wrote Corbett in his March 3 report to top court administrators. “I conclude that the Register did not respond truthfully to material questions I asked her.”
Corbett said he could not sort out the facts behind Campatelli’s alleged Dec. 18 assault on longtime employee Timothy Perry, noting that both had been drinking heavily at two bars prior to the incident and that Perry had been in one detail inconsistent in recounting his story to others at the time.
However, Corbett said, Campatelli showed “poor judgment” by drinking so much at a Christmas party and “a fundamental inability to understand that, as the Suffolk County Register of Probate, she should be a dignified figure at a public party involving her staff rather than a drinking companion.”
Campatelli, a Democrat who was first elected in November 2012 and is running for reelection against four opponents, has dismissed the Corbett report as “nonsense. There’s no sworn testimony. It’s garbage with no dates,” she said, noting that Corbett would not tell her the names of the employees who were criticizing her.
“I don’t have a lie in me,” she told the Globe last week, adding that Corbett “insulted me to no end.”
Philip R. Boncore, Campatelli’s attorney, declined to comment on the report except to say it “does not show willful malfeasance or misconduct.”
Boncore said he intends to go to court to fight her continued suspension on the grounds that court administrators have no disciplinary authority over her.
In his nine-page report, Corbett painted a picture of a vengeful and vulgar boss who did not understand the basics of her job and was not interested in learning them. Employees said she failed to attend numerous training sessions and, even when she did go, “arrived late and left early.”
Campatelli “typically” showed up for work only three days a week and even then put in only “abbreviated days” that ended around 3 p.m., employees said.
Campatelli, in an interview with Corbett, insisted she worked a full 37.5-hour week and that, when she was not in the office, she was attending wakes and funerals, making hospital visits, or “seeing constituents during . . . smoke breaks.’’ Those smoking breaks, employees said, happened several times each day and lasted up to 30 minutes at a time.
She admitted scratching lottery tickets at work, but said the “whole office did that,” and argued that she did so only during breaks.
She also said that she had attended trainings, shadowed her employees to understand their duties, and read about new laws that affect her office. In addition, Campatelli said, she answered phones, pulled files and sat at the front desk, an assertion one employee called “malarkey,” Corbett reported, while another said Campatelli “does positively nothing.”
Employees also said she often used vulgar, demeaning, or sexual language at work. One worker said she dropped “f-bombs” in the office, and once used especially vulgar language when referring to a sexual relationship between two staff members.
Another staffer who brought a female friend with him to the Christmas party reported that Campatelli pulled him aside and said: “I knew you were [having sex with] her.”
Campatelli denied using inappropriate language in the office.
Some employees said Campatelli had favorites in the office, generally the workers who were in the “smoking club,” and took breaks with her. They were allowed to carry lighter workloads, some employees reported, frustrating others who had to do more.
Campatelli intimidated employees and looked for ways to force people out so she could make her own hires, some said. She asked some older workers when they were retiring and tried to fabricate negative work records to justify terminating others, Corbett wrote.
She once told a staff member to “write someone up,” saying, “I need your help to get rid of him,” Corbett wrote.
Two workers apparently learned the hard way not to criticize Campatelli about her smoking breaks: Campatelli allegedly threatened to take away a special bonus one was collecting. The other got an “icy stare” and was later written up for sick leave violations, Corbett wrote.
“If you are not with me, I’ll bury you,” a worker quoted her as saying.
Campatelli denied threatening any employees or trying to force anyone out.
Corbett said that of all the dozens of employees he interviewed, only Campatelli seemed untruthful.
“I could not conclude that she was being honest and forthright,” he wrote.
Corbett, who made no recommendations, urged court officials to act quickly on Campatelli’s case because she is still being paid.
Last week, Paula Carey, chief justice of the Trial Court, referred the report to the Committee on Professional Responsibility for Clerks of the Court, which investigates allegations of misconduct involving clerks or registers.
The committee has historically taken months or even years to reach a decision. It removed Middlesex County Register of Probate Robert B. Antonelli in 1999. But it took two years before Antonelli was ousted for mistreating employees.
For her part, Campatelli said she just wants to get back to the job she was elected to do.
“I’m still working every day. People call me on my cellphone looking for help,” she said last week, adding that despite the controversy, “I’m convinced I’ll win again.”Sean P. Murphy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Andrea Estes can be reached at email@example.com.